Over the last five years, one of the biggest surprises in the fleet industry has been the way Mazda came out of nowhere with the 6 and put itself squarely on the map among stalwarts like the Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord and Ford Mondeo.
But far from resting on its laurels, Mazda has already had enough of that car and is offering fleets an entirely new model from the end of this year.
As product cycles go, with six to seven years the norm, it’s amazingly short.
It does mean that the outgoing 6 won’t have to endure those tricky last 12-18 months where interest almost completely wanes and residuals droop, too.
So soon after the Mondeo, the assumption could easily be that it is just a reskinned version of Ford’s impressive monolith, but this isn’t the case.
This car is almost entirely new, and despite trading bits and pieces across other cars with owner Ford, Mazda has gone it alone and the new 6 shares almost nothing with its cousin.
What you do get, though, is a car that has more than a passing resemblance, especially at the front, to Mazda’s own RX-8 coupe – in itself a distinctive Japanese design.
So what will this new car do in the UK fleet market?
According to James Hopkins, fleet and remarketing director at Mazda UK, it will sell slightly less than the previous model, which at first doesn’t seem the most ambitious of plans.
In its best year, the previous model was doing 16,500 units, with around 60% of those fleet, and Mr Hopkins believes that is a manageable and reasonable amount, especially for keeping residuals strong.
And with the upper-medium market still shrinking a little overall, he thinks that’s a sensible target to replicate.
The car goes on sale at the very end of December and there is a fleet launch in the UK in January.
Hopkins will be showing the RV guides and leasing companies the car in the next month or so, which suggests there is not a lot of time to get this car ready for market.
It really has appeared out of nowhere.
On the market at launch will be three petrols and one diesel, with the 140bhp 2.0-litre MTDI the key fleet model.
Executives couldn’t possibly comment on a more powerful diesel, but it’s a given there will be a 160-170bhp version sooner rather than later to attract more profitable user-chooser company car drivers.
Specification is yet to be announced, but expect all the corporate toys to be showered on the car such as Bluetooth and Bose stereo, while higher spec cars will come with CF-Net – essentially Mazda’s iDrive which controls audio, navigation and trip computer from the steering wheel.
It has that high on information, low on style feel of many Japanese systems.
Low running costs and tax should attract fleets, especially with the diesel, which at 149g/km is now four company car tax bands lower than the outgoing model.
The reason it has managed to lower emissions so markedly is weight loss.
Through some obsessive nipping and tucking, even down to lighter stuffing in the seats and different material for the speaker magnets, the new car is about 35kg lighter than the outgoing one.
It’s a strategy that puts Mazda in a class of its own as most other manufacturers’ cars keep getting heavier with every new model.
The firm has also addressed one of the criticisms of the old car, in that it was fairly noisy on the move, with the fitment of a lot more sound absorption materials in and around the cabin.
In fact, the engineers reckon they got the car running so quietly, they discovered all sorts of other rattles and squeaks they didn’t know were there, which then needed tending.
Behind the wheel
We only got to test the 6 on a track, but even this limited environment highlighted one major aspect: this is a very nice car to drive.
The Mazda6 feels snappy and alive. Even the 1.8-litre isn’t horribly slow. Turn in and the 6 reacts sharply with no roll or delay. There’s plenty of grip and no lardy understeer.
Tighten your line and instead of the front washing out, the back starts to shift and grip, rather like a well-sorted hot hatch.
There was no diesel to try but the 2.0-litre petrol was the nicest version we drove, with a crisp engine note and gearshift, while the 2.5 had a very sensitive throttle and felt a little coarse.
In the cabin, there’s a very comfortable driving position and a slightly longer wheelbase has freed up even more rear legroom than in the previous, generously-endowed car.
The cabin feels well-built, while drivers of higher spec models get a welcome when they open the door where all the red backlighting of instruments and dials flicker on in sequence.
# It seems gimmicky, but it doesn’t detract from the feeling that this is a well-sorted car, that’s good to drive with a well-appointed cabin.
The previous Mazda6 was a very good car. The new one takes the elements that made it successful and adds to it.
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||120/5,500||147/6,500||170/6,000||140/3,500|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||123/4,300||136/4,000||167/4,000||243/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||125||134||137||127|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||41.5||40.4||34.9||50.4|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||161||166||192||149|